Here’s how much the student-athletes could receive if the rules were already in place for the likes of Zion Williamson and Napheesa Collier to benefit
With the passage of the California Fair Pay to Play act this year, college athlete compensation has taken a front-row seat in a national discussion. While the California law only allows student-athletes to profit off the use of their name, image, or likeness, let’s imagine a world where student-athletes are actually paid their worth. After all, the NCAA is a multi-billion dollar organization that can pay some of their coaches millions of dollars a year, why shouldn’t the ones actually playing the sport cash in? (We’ll get to that later).
David Berri, sports economist and professor of economics at Southern Utah University, estimated what the men’s and women’s college basketball players from the 2017-2018 season if the NCAA had a similar player revenue share percentage as the NBA. The numbers are astounding. Duke standout Zion Williamson would have made over $5 million dollars. Napheesa Collier, UConn women’s team standout, would have profited slightly less than $1 million dollars.
The economic approach is sound. Berri calculated that Duke University reported to the Department of Education that its men’s basketball program made $36.4 million in revenue in 2018. If Duke followed the practice of the NBA — with 50 percent of the revenue going to the players — Duke’s players would be paid $18.2 million. And if players were assured a minimum wage and then paid according to how many wins each player produced for Duke, a player like Williamson — who produced 10.6 wins for the Blue Devils last year — would have been worth $5.15 million. The cost of attending Duke University is reported to be $71,764.
One of the counter-arguments to paying college athletes (amateurism is a con so we’re not gonna talk about that here) is that the revenue-generating sports make up for and fund non-revenue generating sports, including many women’s sports. Opponents to athlete compensation say that it could effectively end Title IX and have a negative impact on women’s sports at the collegiate level.
To start, Title IX is barely enforced as is. If you doubt that, look at the recent Title IX lawsuit against the University of Kentucky by two female students. The complaint itself was filed based on a publicly available report that UK filed with the United States Department of Education that stated that for the 2017-2018 academic year, women made up 55 percent of the student population but only comprised 41 percent of the participants in UK varsity sports. Those self-reported numbers clearly establish inequality but no action was taken on them until a lawsuit was filed this year.
Second, women’s college basketball is much younger than the men’s game. Title IX wasn’t passed until 1972 and before that went into effect there were relatively few women who played college sports. Despite the relative youth of the women’s game, though, many women’s programs report substantial revenues from women’s basketball.
Berri’s calculations took into account that UConn reported $7.4 million in revenue from their women’s program in 2017-2018. If that revenue was shared in the same way revenue is shared in the NBA, Collier –who produced 11.5 wins for Connecticut in 2018-19 — would be worth $972,410. In spite of women’s basketball being a far newer sport at the collegiate level, to discount its recent success is nonsense — Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu’s 30 point performance against the US National team in front of 11,530 fans for an exhibition game is Exhibit A.
Lastly, these programs make a ridiculous amount of money off people actually doing the work. For example, March Madness, college basketball’s biggest stage, generates about $900 million dollars each year, with a large portion coming from a broadcast deal between CBS and Turner Broadcasting that averages $771 million a year. College football locker rooms are nicer than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. In the words of Jay Bilas, “But there’s just not enough money…”
It’s time that the people actually doing the work get paid, and while a revenue share model is not likely anytime soon, that doesn’t change how much profit these student-athletes are generating for their universities.
“When we think about whether or not college sports is professional, the minute they sold tickets, it became professional,” Berri continues, “The minute there is revenue being generated by the workers, then there’s a reason to be paying them, and if you choose not to pay them, that doesn’t change their professional status.”
Take a look at Berri’s numbers that imagine a market for college athletes:
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